WEST ORANGE, NJ — As a new school year begins, the West Orange High School marching band is preparing for its first halftime show of the season. The band’s new performance, titled “Rome: The Eternal City,” will debut at Suriano Stadium on Friday, Aug. 18, when the students return from their weeklong band camp in Pennsylvania. After a successful 2016 season, band director Lewis Kelly is looking ahead to this fall.
“It takes quite a while for us to decide on a show theme,” Kelly told the West Orange Chronicle in an Aug. 13 email. “We go through a lot of ideas before we settle on one. Eventually the staff finds one that will showcase the strengths of the band.”
The new music is a departure from the 2016 halftime show, which featured a mix of popular music and Broadway tunes such as “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.” Kelly said the high school musicians and color guard members are confident with whatever music they are given; they mix up the program from year to year.
“Our band is comfortable playing anything,” Kelly said. “Last year’s show featured Beyonce, Broadway and traditional band composers. Some bands always play classical music every year, some bands play jazz. We are unique in that you never know year to year what we will play.”
With full ensemble rehearsals running through July and August, band camp is the final step in building a 10-minute marching band show. The marching show, or the “drill,” is all finished before students board the buses to camp.
“The music is the most important part of the show. At camp though, we are focused on the marching part and getting all of that learned before coming back to school,” Kelly said. “The drill is all written before we get to camp.”
To put it all together, Kelly said, is a piece-by-piece process. Each section spends time broken down into smaller groups before coming together later to create a whole.
“We obviously rehearse all together sometimes, but we spend a lot of times in smaller sections,” Kelly said.
When the marching band directors and staff are choosing music and deciding what they want the drill to look like, they refer to Bands of America, a high school marching band organization, and Drum Corps International for insight. But they also want students to see other high school bands in the area.
“We do want our band members to see as many other bands from around the state as possible to learn to be critical audience members,” Kelly said.
The biggest benefit of a week spent learning music together, Kelly said, is the bonds that are created within the band.
“I think the most important part of the season is band camp. The best part of the band is the life lessons learned and the friendships that the kids create,” he said. “I’m still in contact with many marching band friends from high school.”
After a 2016 season that saw the Marching Mountaineers win a U.S. Bands national championship in their group size, Kelly wants to focus on the new school year and competition season.
“I want the band to be the best they can be; we will see where that takes us,” Kelly said.
When football season starts and other town events are in full swing, the WOHS marching band is often the most visible part of the school’s music department.
“Between football games, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other local functions, everyone in West Orange usually has seen the marching band once,” Kelly said. “It sometimes acts as the face of the department. The curricular bands, orchestras and choirs are the backbone of the kids’ educational experience, but everyone sees the marching band.”